Bringing the party to the people

A history of our Inaugural West Swingers and White House Hoedowns
By KARA BASKIN  |  January 19, 2009

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Are there any jobs on Earth more virile-sounding than commander in chief? Even the Beltway acronym used to refer to the president of the United States — POTUS — is bursting with, well, potency. Being sworn in as POTUS, as BARACK OBAMA will be in a few days, is in many ways the coronation of the ultimate macho man. Some past presidents have risen to the occasion, stiff to the January wind. Others have shriveled in the snow. A history of inauguration moments.

Cloak and swagger
Frigid temps have managed to ruin many an inauguration. Or, in some cases, lives. In 1841, our ninth president, WILLIAM HENRY "TIPPECANOE" HARRISON, in a misguided act of machismo, braved an icy climate to appear before his adoring public sans overcoat. The 68 year old flexed his macho muscles and waved to the crowd like a pre-Botox Miss America, before delivering what must have been an unbearable 100-minute address. But Harrison proved he was no Washington outsider: the coatless near-septuagenarian contracted pneumonia, and expired a mere 32 days into his presidency.

Coats have continued to wreak havoc on Washington's quadrennial fête ever since. In 1985, Colleen Beveridge, a former schoolteacher from Virginia, made news when she enlisted police aid to help her locate an $8000 mink stole lost in the shuffle at a RONALD REAGAN inaugural ball. In 1989, for GEORGE H.W. BUSH's inauguration, people stormed cloakrooms in what later became known as "The Bastille Day Coat Check" affair at the Texas State Society Tie and Boots Ball. And at a 1997 BILL CLINTON ball, police were summoned for garment control.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, meanwhile, refused to acknowledge the irony of asking a man named Frost to read at his frigid inauguration. That would be, of course, esteemed poet Robert Frost, but, sadly, the elderly wordsmith couldn't keep his composure in the chilly temps. He attempted to read a poem penned for the occasion, called "Dedication," but was distracted by the sun's glare reflecting off the snow. He eventually abandoned this effort and recited another poem, "Happy Birthday, Mister President," from memory while whispering lewdly. (Just kidding. He read "The Gift Outright.")

Men of the people
Loose cannon JIMMY CARTER, the same guy who sent his campaign staff into a tailspin after proclaiming to Playboy that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust," threw his Secret Service entourage into a frenzy on his inauguration day. After being sworn in, the simple peanut farmer from Georgia abandoned his secure limo and ambled up Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife and family. Luckily for him, no one seemed to care.

Other presidents, meanwhile, knew how to mix it up with their constituents. On the night of his inauguration, ANDREW JACKSON (whose wife smoked a pipe) turned 1600 Pennsylvania into a Delta House–level fraternity riot. Throngs of revelers rushed the White House from the streets to party with Old Hickory, resulting in stolen liquor, broken furniture, and soiled floors. Americans ultimately rewarded him for the mayhem by sticking his mug on the $20 bill.

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